Tag Archives: eye care

My top 20 nonfiction picks

For nearly three-and-a-half years now, I’ve been posting book reviews in this blog, typically twice a week. For my own benefit as well as yours, I like to look back every so often at the books I’ve read and think about what I’ve learned from them. What follows below is a list of the 20 nonfiction books (out of more than 100 I read) that have added the most to my understanding of the world. They’re arranged in no particular order: I can’t imagine trying to pick the best of this lot!

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Lawrence Wright

The definitive study of the belief system known as Scientology, with an emphasis on its human rights violations and the Hollywood celebrities it has gathered into its “prison of belief.”

Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, by Peter Janney

Revelations galore from newly unearthed evidence about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his last years in the White House.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt

The seminal role of a long-forgotten  ancient Greek poet and philosopher on the thinking of the geniuses who shaped the Renaissance and on the course of history that followed.

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, by Robert D. Kaplan

Recent history and current events through the distorting lens of geopolitics, which views Planet Earth, and the machinations and foibles of earthly leaders, from a very different perspective than is found in most history books.

Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, by Arthur Herman

The astonishing story of America’s rearmament in World War II, with a focus on the two larger-than-life personalities who made it happen through sheer force of will: William Knudsen and Henry J. Kaiser.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben McIntyre

The stranger-than-fiction story of the British double agents whose brilliant work in Europe played a pivotal role in the success of the Normandy Invasion.

The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan

A comprehensive and well-informed view of the world of social enterprise and the extraordinary individuals who stand out in a field that attracts brilliant and inspired people by the carload.

The Self-Made Myth, and the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham

An in-depth refutation of the myth of rugged individualism, lionized by Ayn Rand’s novels and enshrined in conservative and libertarian ideology for four decades.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

How the War on Drugs, and the institutionalized racism that undergirds it, has weakened American society and fostered a new underclass dominated by young men of color.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo

A first-hand account of three years in a slum neighborhood in one of the biggest cities in the world, focusing on the hopes and challenges of two local families.

Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion, by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy

A beautifully-written account of the history of a nonprofit South Indian eye hospital that has pioneered a revolutionary approach to eye-care which has brought relief to millions of poor people worldwide.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

An unvarnished biography of the design and marketing genius who built  Apple and gained a place in business history alongside Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Sam Walton.

Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin

The troubling story of the institutionalization of a new military-intelligence complex triggered by 9/11 and accelerated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson

The long-overlooked story of FDR’s ambassador to Nazi Germany and his frustrated efforts to turn U.S. policy against Hitler in the face of horrific violence against Jews in Germany and anti-Semitism in the State Department.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A History of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

An oncologist’s critical study of the diseases lumped together under the label of cancer and of humanity’s halting efforts to arrest and cure them.

Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff

A fresh new take on one of history’s most powerful and fascinating women, long caricatured in popular fiction and history books alike.

The Devil’s Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers, by Vicky Ward

An illuminating tale of the people who set off the Great Recession, bringing to light the greed, self-delusion, and miscalculation that came so close to collapsing the world economy in 2008.

Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, by Richard. A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake

A profoundly troubling look at the rapid rise of cyber warfare and the existential threat it poses to American civilization, written by the top counterterrorism official in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

Based on ten years of dogged research, a science journalist’s deeply moving account of the African-American woman whose cancerous cells seeded six decades of medical discoveries.


Filed under Commentaries, FAQs & Commentaries

Aravind: A social enterprise with scale and impact to match Grameen Bank

A review of Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion, by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

“At first glance, it seemed a venture far too quixotic to be effective. But when intuitive goodness is pitted against unthinkable odds, it stirs the imagination and awakens possibility.”

This is the spirit in which Pavithra Mehta, with co-author Suchitra Shenoy, approaches her history of the world-famous vision care center her great-uncle founded in South India 35 years ago. It is a truly astonishing story — one with profound implications for development throughout the Global South.

“Today, the Aravind Eye Care System is the largest and most productive blindness-preention organization on the planet. During the last 35 years, its network of five eye hospitals in South India have treated more than 32 million patients and performed more than 4 million surgeries, the majority either ultrasubsidized or free.” Equally important, Aravind also serves as a global resource center for opthalmology, training one out of every seven Indian eye doctors, consulting on management and technical issues with eye hospitals in 69 countries, and operating a state-of-the-art research center.

In 1958, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy reached the mandatory retirement age of 58 in his government post and retired to Madurai, a celebrated city of one million people in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Inspired by his guru and the deeply felt spiritual values he had long held, he enlisted his brothers and sisters (virtually all of them opthalmologists like him) to help him found an 11-bed eye hospital. Dr. V (as he was widely known) set the fledgling nonprofit hospital on course to provide cataract surgery to all who needed it, regardless of their ability to pay.

He and his family implemented a staggered fee schedule, charging market rates to those with the ability to pay and a heavily subsidized rate to those with limited means, but worked free of charge to those who could pay nothing — allowing every patient to choose his or her own level of payment. (A future President of India once received free care.) Miraculously, this approach allowed Aravind to earn a profit from its earliest days until the present. Surplus funds permitted Dr. V. to build first one new eye hospital, then three more, and later to fund a manufacturing plant for intraocular lenses and a world-class opthalmological research center.

The quality of Aravind’s eye care services and of the lenses produced in its factory match or exceed the standards of the West. In fact, a recent study compared Aravind’s surgical outcomes to those of the members of the Royal College of Opthalmologists of the UK — and “found Aravind’s complication rates to be less than those of its British counterparts.” Similarly, when one senior Aravind surgeon lectured on corneal ulcers at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, “the faculty adviser told his residents, ‘The amazing stuff you just saw — don’t try it here. We don’t have that kind of expertise.'”

Today, Aravind employs 3,200 persons. Dr. V passed away in 2006 at the age of 88, but his younger brothers and sisters remain involved in Aravind — although they have passed the reins of management to first one and then a third generation of this truly remarkable family. (Aravind currently counts 21 opthalmologists in Dr. V’s family among its staff.)

Aravind’s business model is unique in many ways. It’s a nonprofit that consistently turns a profit. It subjects the most modest and obscure processes at work in the hospital to exacting statistical analysis — everything from the manner in which custodians clean the floors to the number of sutures its surgeons employ — and as a result has attained a level of efficiency that would bring smiles to the faces of the most demanding Japanese plant manager. It shares its management secrets (and they are many) with all comers with an openness and a willingness to train competitors that is simply extraordinary. It pioneered the use of eye care “camps” — one-day events staged in towns and villages throughout the state of Tamil Nadu to generate large numbers of surgical patients, busing them into the nearest hospital in the Aravind system.

Dr. V’s daily journal, assiduously updated throughout his days at Aravind, reflects the breadth and depth of the questions he never stopped asking. For example, “How was Buddha able to organize in those days a religion that millions follow[?] . . . How did the disciples of Christ spread their mission around the world[?]” Yet Dr. V also frequently spoke of his dream to bring efficiency, consistency, and low cost to eye surgery the way McDonald’s did to hamburgers. Aravind remains today a pure expression of the vision and the spirit of unending inquiry that he brought to the venture from the outset.


Filed under Business, Nonfiction